Residents of West Chester may have seen London-born Carmen Khan “bopping down the road on my bike to the theater,” as she describes. Having lived in the community for the past 32 years, Khan is now bopping into her next big venture, serving as Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center’s first-ever artistic director.
“With every new endeavor, there’s always butterflies you have,” she says. “We’re putting in an entire theater infrastructure here, which they haven’t had before. There’s so much to do.”
Khan obtained her MFA in acting from the Catholic University of America, and her extensive resume includes previously serving as artistic director of the Philadelphia-based Red Heel Theatre. She’s now bringing this experience to the Main Line region, where she’s visualizing a top-notch theater program in Chester County.
“My vision is to create a professional, regional theater within an excellent performing arts center right here in West Chester. It’s my hope that this will become a sort of town commons, a cultural hub where you can expect high-quality plays, musicals and other art. I want to connect the community to the arts—especially students at risk, since I was one,” says Khan.
Khan didn’t have it easy growing up in a rough London neighborhood, but she credits theater as the catalyst that turned her life around. “It was a teacher instructing on Shakespeare who really lifted me out of that,” she explains. “Once I read and reperformed some of that work, my mind opened, and I felt like there were possibilities in the world. My imagination was ignited.”
Upon coming stateside, Khan realized Philadelphia lacked a Shakespeare presence, so she founded the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. This ran for 25 years before winding down during the pandemic.
Now, she’s focusing on bringing shows that are “highly entertaining yet still moving” to the area, and her first production is just that. The Butterfingers Angel is running at the theater from November 30 to December 23 and offers a retelling of the Nativity story in a modern, comical way you’ve never heard before.
“The playwright really turns it on his head,” says Khan. “It’s not like any Nativity play you’ve ever seen.”
Maggie O’Connor plays the cow, among other roles. “The show follows Mary, who is approached by the angel telling her she is going to have a baby. But Mary is not about that. That’s not what her dream is. That’s not what her plans are,” she says.
As an independent woman who is not ready for motherhood, Mary teams up with Joseph, and you know the rest. Expect a comedic performance with fun characters that still conjures the emotions of the heartfelt Nativity account. “It’s almost like Monty Python meets the sacred in the Christmas story,” Khan depicts.
After the holiday season, Khan plans to continue making a name for the Uptown! program through captivating yet meaningful shows. “No matter what you come here to find—music, dance, comedy or theater—it’s always going to be fantastic,” she says. “Whether it’s your taste or not, you’ll always see something of really high quality.”
For tickets to The Butterfingers Angel, visit the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center website.